nature (Liam and me)

My grandson, Liam, will join our Bird-a-thon team for the third year this weekend.

Winter on Cape Cod feels like it lasts forever. It drags on and on and on and on and, well, you know. We get a teaser of a spring day in very early spring. Sometimes it lasts a day but more often only a few hours.

Then it’s back to winter again. This April was cruel, even for April, the so-called cruelest month. Rain, rain and more rain. A glimmer of sun here and there, but even the usually cheerful daffodils began grumbling. Really, they did. You could sometimes hear them over the whines of dogs forced to walk through cold puddles.

Ducks quacked and gulls quibbled. It was too wet even for them. And it was cold rain. Raw, nasty, unrelenting. I spent a lot of time watching youth sports on soggy, muddy fields where the wind whipped us unapologetically and sent rainwater down the backs of our necks.

My wool hat and mittens remain in my car and my heavy socks and winter jacket are still in play. It’s May. Almost mid-May. I feel like I’ve moved to Oregon or Seattle. I’m sure they’re lovely places, but it’s too much rain for me. Must have said that out loud somewhere because this spring delivered it to my doorstep. Not funny, universe.

In spite of all the damp and my attendant crabbing, spring has sprung. The leaves are filling out, flowers and trees are blooming, and the spring migrants are arriving. On May 5 of the last five years, male Baltimore orioles have arrived at my orange and jelly feeder. This year a red-bellied woodpecker helped himself to several orange halves while we waited for our brightly feathered friends. Others were reporting hummingbirds and rose-breasted grosbeaks but not me. I had a lot of goldfinches, nesting chickadees, downy woodpeckers, robins, song sparrows and blue jays but no flash of orange.

Bright and early on May 5 I was standing in the kitchen staring out the window, watching a flicker enjoying a feast of earthworms on my lawn when I heard it. That tell-tale note followed by a chatter and then, there he was. Or there they were. Two males who had probably been in town for 10 minutes were bickering over the grape jelly. Eventually hunger won and they both gobbled, and yes, I mean gobbled, up as much as they could stuff in their crops. It had probably been a long, cold night. In another few days the ladies will be here and then the fun will begin.

Nature explodes into action in spring, rain or shine. There’s so much to be done and so little time. Territories must be claimed, mates wooed, nests built, and eggs laid.

In the insect world eggs are hatching, cocoons are cracking open and all sorts of buggy activity is beginning. The synchronicity of all those insects coming to life as all the insect-eating birds arrive makes me marvel each year. Nectar-sipping birds arrive with the blossoms of fruiting plants and bees hum along right beside them.

Snakes, turtles, frogs and toads are all active. Watch out for turtles on the move. At this time of year, it is often the males on the lookout for mates that has them out wandering. Turtles are not street-smart. It’s okay to help one across the road if it’s safe to do so, but be sure to put it on the side of the road it was headed for. Otherwise it will just cross the road again.

Many frogs and toads have already laid eggs, so now they’re fattening up and playing hide and seek with things that like to eat them. Toads aren’t very tasty, so most animals and birds avoid them, but frogs are a different story. Just ask a heron or raccoon. Spring, all two or three weeks of it, is a wonderful time. I just wish it lasted a bit longer.

Mass Audubon’s annual fundraiser, the Bird-a-thon, begins today at 6 PM and ends tomorrow at 6 PM. This 24-hour-long birding contest engages birders of all ages and abilities to find as many species as they can. The prize? Bragging rights, of course. Once again, I’m on the team from the Coastal Waterbird Program with Kathy and Stu Parsons. You can make a donation to Mass Audubon in our team’s behalf at http://web.massaudubon.org/site/TR/bird-a-thon/Bird-a-thon?team_id=1208&pg=team&fr_id=1080.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist, and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information is at www.capecodartandnature.com.

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